Custom Knife Scales

About: Father of two sweet girls and husband to my wonderful wife.

First shot at an Instructable . . . here we go

While buying lumber at the local home improvement store I noticed long strips of lathe separating the 2x4's. They were 1 inch wide and 1/4 inch thick with an appealing cross grain. To me, they looked like a perfect source of knife scale blanks ready to be cut to length. Since the material was just trash as far as the store was concerned, they let me have it for free.

I had an old folding knife with cheap-o plastic scales. The blade was surgical steel but the handle was not pleasing to the eye and roughly molded to the frame of the knife. The plastic scales popped off with some gentle persuasion using another thin-bladed knife. I used the old scales to trace an outline on what I thought looked like the most attractively grained parts of the lathe.

I cut the lathe into rectangles of about 3 inches to give myself some room at the top and bottom of the outline to round out the edges nicely. Then using a v-shaped palm gouge, I scooped away the waste wood while leaving the line on the outline. Since the lathe was thin, It was simple to cut through after a few passes and leave the rough knife scale shape behind.

I took a rough, laid it on the table and lined the naked frame of the knife onto the rough. Then I tapped the protruding rivets just hard enough to leave and impression on the rough underneath without warping the frame. I used a small, u-shaped palm gouge to deepen the rivet marks until the frame rested flat against the rough. Then I repeated the process for the opposite side. This way the epoxy will have full contact between the rough and the frame later.

I used a favorite epoxy clay to adhere the scales to the frame (using a clamp during the drying/curing process) because this epoxy has proven itself very strong and enduring for me in the past. In retrospect, I would have used a different method of adherence because of the unsightly gray that is visible in the end product but hey, this was a first attempt at this kind of thing for me so live and learn.

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Step 1: Shaping the Scales

Once the scales are firmly attached to the frame, you are at liberty to shape them as you wish. Since this was my first attempt I opted for a comfortable, simple shape. I used a razor knife to whittle the scale slimmer around the hinge of the knife while keeping it as wide as possible nearer the base to facilitate a good grip between thumb and forefinger that was not likely to allow a finger to slide forward and get cut on the base of the blade. The razor bladed knife made it easier to trim any wood that extended past the edge of the frame while frequently having to cut cross-grain. Then I smoothed then ridges of the scale until every flowed in a nice organic feel (go for smooth and comfortable). The u-shaped gouge I used earlier was a great help in trimming the wood flush with the in-swept frame at the release lever.

I followed up with steadily finer grit sandpaper until I had a glassy smooth surface. Since this was going to be a gift, I poked a knife into the surface of the scale of one side to indent their initials inside a triangle. I then applied several coats of gunstock colored stain/sealer, sanding between coats. The initials soaked up the stain well and showed nicely dark against the surrounding wood.

For a finishing touch, I used a lawn mower sharpening file to add a thumb grip to the back of the base of the blade and another file to make the blade tip flush with the frame since originally, the tip stuck out far enough to catch on things a bit.

Step 2: Completed Knife Scales

Since the lathe material was free and the knife + the stain and sand paper were laying around the house, The total cost of this project was nil. Total time (considering drying time between stain coats) I estimate at about 4 hours.

Going forward, I will take more pictures so as to forgo 1,000 word descriptions. Any thoughts or questions are welcome!


Chris Quarles

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    3 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Very cool! I love the idea of making these scales from otherwise discarded wood bits. Nicely done!


    4 years ago

    i will be making several of these. thank you so much for spawning this new hobby. i have many knives with cheap plastic skins. awesome instructible!

    1 reply